by Simon Van Vliet
On the site of the future MIL Campus of the Université de Montréal, Chef Antonin Mousseau Rivard and his friends of the Alaclair Ensemble celebrate a unique gastronomic experience: a meal composed entirely of local produce.
In the middle of the site that devours one of the last vacant lots in the center of Montreal, enclosed between two railway tracks, an improbable vegetable garden is hidden.
At the foot of the strange pyramid of MONT RÉEL, an ephemeral collective design project evocative of Mount Royal looming in the distance, bees forage Miel Montréal’s flower garden, stuck between the office of the site superintendent and the metal fences behind which heavy machinery hammers away relentlessly in the vast empty lot.
On the horizon immense cranes hover over the concrete skeleton of a University pavillion under construction, while workers busy themselves in the bowels of what will become a beacon of knowledge destined to nurture the eager minds of the rising generation.
A freight train passes through, brakes squeaking, and hauling several worn-out tank cars, possibly laden with black oil from the West that nourishes the market’s insatiable appetite, at the risk of starving the planet and disrupting its climate. A passenger train whooshes by, likely carrying several hundred passengers from the city, returning to their suburban homes where supper may already await them.
Following a butterfly as it flutters aimlessly through the bountiful rows of a community garden, we come across an apprentice farmer harvesting oversized zucchini. “I can never pick them in time!”, sighs the gardener who tends the gardens in order to feed members of the community without emptying their pockets.
A sign that urban agriculture is in tune with the times, a television crew is shooting in the nearby market garden of Coop Bioma which has taken over the gravel of the former railway. And since the future can be sown on any soil, a nursery by Les amis de la montagne stretches out at our feet: the promise of a nature ready to reclaim its rights over the city and regain even the most hostile of site, decontaminating once fertile lands in its wake – provided it is given the chance.
We turn to find, upright in the center of these disparate installations, Le Virage, a structure composed of modified containers, one of which houses the canteen where the chef’s team is already hard at work. Through the distinctive sound of a detuned piano, both the buzzing of the adjacent factory’s ventilation system and the humming of the generator can be heard. The chef leaves his kitchen to greet the artists as they arrive.
It’s time for the first round of drinks. At the bar, cocktails made with gin distilled locally from Quebec corn are offered. Local beer is served, as well as local wine. There are no vineyards on the Island of Montreal, but many can be found within 100 kilometers. No white wine tonight, however. When you drink local, you must content yourself with what you have!
The chef is keeping busy in the kitchen during the group’s soundcheck, decorating fresh salads with edible flowers. The embers are still smoking gently under the grill when apprentice “locavores” arrive and sit at the table, either alone or in small groups, awaiting their meal.
It’s time, the table is set! We line up in single file. No prayers before the meal, but thanks and a fiery speech by the chef who promises to treat us to a feast made from products available in Montreal or in its immediate vicinity. Between the fresh vegetables and the herbs picked on site, the fish caught sport fishing on the Saint Lawrence and the dairy products imported, so to speak, from a farm located 77 kilometers from Montreal, the chef has fulfilled his promise to concoct a meal entirely comprised of local products. “It’s a matter of choice”, he insists, without attempting to moralize, on the importance of raising awareness for a “locavore” alternative.
While the worker ants rest (or eat their meal) and cicadas sing in the setting sun, dessert is served. Cotton candy made from maple sugar and foie gras, why not? Tomorrow, the site will continue to devour the city. And what shall we eat then?